Australian Women Writers: Top 10

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday theme is ‘books to get you in the Halloween spirit.’ But I’m not much for books that scare me out of my wits, and aside from The Passage, I haven’t ventured far into zombie/vampire territory. So I’m breaking out with my own theme.

For several years, no female writers were shortlisted for Australia’s premier fiction prize – The Miles Franklin Award. This was particularly galling given that the prize was named for a woman writer. So a group of women in the book industry decided to redress the balance by establishing a prize for women writers: The Stella Prize, named after Miles Franklin’s little-known first name.

The Stella Prize aims to ‘celebrate and recognise Australian women’s writing, encourage a future generation of women writers, and significantly increase the readership for books by women’ and will be awarded for the first time to a female Australian writer in 2013. I’m throwing my hat into the ring with my novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and to honour the launch of the prize, I’ve made a list of some of my favourite books by Australian Women Writers.

Stella Prize

1. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)

Why not start at the source? My Brilliant Career is a fictionalised account of Franklin’s early life, told through the character of the gutsy Sybylla – a girl with literary aspirations, born, alas, in the Australian outback in the 1890s. It is a hilarious, touching and heartwarming yarn, all the more admirable considering it was written when Franklin was just 16 years old.

2. Monkey Grip by Helen Garner (1977)

Set in the share houses of inner-city Melbourne in the 1970s, when a generation was exploring new definitions of love, family and home, Monkey Grip is the story of the doomed romance between single-mother Nora, and the endearing but hopeless junkie Javo. It’s a little dated now, but a perfect snapshot of an era.

3. Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park (1981)

The tale of a girl who finds herself transported from modern-day Australia into the nineteenth century is a sinister and original take on the well-worn time-travel theme and made a deep impression on me when I first read it as a teenager.

4. Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska (1991)

This beautifully-written book is part-memoir, part-biography and part-fiction. A meditation on motherhood, it explores a mother’s struggle with depression and the impact of that on her daughters. I first read it as a daughter, and more recently as a mother who has suffered from depression myself. From both perspectives I found it deeply moving and rich with insight.

5. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville (1999)

Grenville won The Orange Prize (UK’s Premier Fiction Prize for Women) with this warm-hearted offbeat romance set against the unlikely backdrop of a tricky engineering conundrum in small-town Australia.

6. Too Many Men by Lily Brett (2002)

Decades after the Holocaust, a woman and her father travel to Poland to understand the extent of their loss. Brett has written a great deal about the Holocaust but this heartbreaking, humourous and absorbing tome has quite a twist.

7. Father Lands by Emily Ballou (2002)

A gorgeous story of a Milwaukee childhood, as seen through the eyes of eight-year-old Cherry Laurel. I saw ‘adopted’ Australian Ballou read from this at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival many years ago, dutifully lined up for my signed copy and was not disappointed.

8. Sixty Lights by Gail Jones (2004)

Gail Jones was one of my creative writing teachers at university, and I was rivetted by her lectures, literally hanging on every word she pronounced in her squeaky voice. Years later I savoured this exotic and highly visual story of photographer Lucy Strange, told in Jones’ trademark exquisite prose.

9. The Nature of Ice by Robyn Mundy (2009)

Mundy’s novel weaves together two compelling narratives. In the first, a photographer travels to Antarcica to recreate Frank Hurley’s iconic photographs. Though the details of contemporary life in Antarctica were fascinating, and Freyr’s story involving, it was the second narrative – that of Mawson’s ill-fated 1911 Antarctic expedition – that really reeled me in. Sobbing my heart out, I wished for a time machine to save those amazing men, and their dogs!

10. Black Glass by Meg Mundell (2011)

A blackly funny exploration of surveillance, the media and marginalisation set in the not-too-distant future, Mundell’s imaginative debut crackles with pacey dialogue and keen observations.

Are you a fan of any of these novels by Australian women writers? Leave your own favourites in the comments.

You might also like: Australian Women Writers Reading & Reviewing Challenge 2012

More from Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Never Be Forgotten

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Australian Women Writers  Top 10 Tuesday   ANNABEL SMITH

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